In part 2 of Criticism in Marriage, we talked about the negative side of criticism and how it can really damage our relationships. But not all criticism is bad. In fact, Jesus was known for criticizing the religious leaders of his time. He spent his ministry teaching and correcting those around him, and guess what? Most of them listened! Many dropped what they were doing and followed Him. They took His criticism as direction and purpose. Why did the followers of Jesus so readily do this?
Constructive Criticism – What is it?
Wikipedia has a great explanation saying:
Constructive criticism is the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. The purpose of constructive criticism is to improve the outcome.
In marriage, we are often giving each other our thoughts and opinions on everything around us, and in most cases this makes for some great communication. It can help us to become more intimately known to our spouse. The key is to better understand how to both give and to receive constructive criticism.
When giving criticism, we should first be sure that our emotions are in check, and we’re not about to spout off something in such a negative way that the entire opinion is lost on our spouse. Even the most valid point can be lost when we speak in an agitated tone. When your comments are made in an accusatory way, the natural response is to get defensive. A natural response to defensiveness is that your advice was just dismissed. I don’t know how many times, in a fluster of stress, I’ve said, “Why did you just do that!?” only to be met with a defensive comment of some sort. But when you take the time to speak your mind, things go much smoother.
So how can we really give criticism that will result in positive results? First you should always ask yourself if what you are about to say is in line with God’s word, and is it something that can be acted upon? You may be prodding your husband to have hair like John Stamos, but God actually intended his hair to be more like John Malkovich. Continually commenting on your husband’s less than flowing mane is likely to result in feelings of insecurity; even if you’re “just teasing”.
Your spouse may not be able to change his or her thinning hair, but there are many things they can change. Therefore, once you’ve determined that your criticism is Godly, and something they have control over, you can give your recommendations for improvement. There are a few methods that work well for this, including what is known as the Sandwich Method.
The Sandwich Method is 3 parts:
First, begin by focusing on the strengths, things that are being done well, something you like about the specific topic you’d like to address. Second, you give your criticism on the area you feel needs improvement, being specific, and pointing to the situation – not the person. Third, you remind them of the strengths and positive aspects of the topic, as well as some positive outcomes that can be expected.
Guys, when you’re wife asks you that age-old question, “Does this look okay?” you can pull out The Sandwich and really make your wife feel confident and beautiful! Here is a response that would go over much better than, “I hate that skirt on you.”
“Honey, you have such great taste in clothes and I really love how you always ask for my opinion. That shows me how much you want to make yourself pleasing to me. The skirt you are wearing is pretty, but it isn’t my favorite. I really love that blue dress with the flowers that you wore a few weeks ago. It brings out your eyes, and I light up every time you wear it.”
Now guys, I realize this is about 100 more words than you want to say, but this criticism will go a very long way in achieving what you really want: A wife who dresses in a manner that pleases you visually, whose confidence will soar knowing that you’re checking her out all day long, who will go out of her way to dress attractively for you, and who will thrive off of your compliment sandwich all day long. Remember, a positive + a positive = more positives!
When it comes to criticism, receiving is probably more difficult than giving. We are all a little sensitive to criticisms, especially if they aren’t given in truth and love, but the key accepting criticisms is to have a teachable spirit. If you lack a teachable spirit, your ability to grow to become more Christ-like is hindered. Dr. Leo Godzich, founder of NAME, says, “God did not make marriage to make you happy, He made it to spiritually mature you.” This means that God uses our spouse to mold, teach, and correct us.
We must also remember that just because someone has a different perspective and may disagree with you, they aren’t trying to attack you. Even if the criticism didn’t come in the perfect package, we should try to keep ourselves from getting defensive. Listen to what is actually being communicated, and try to reiterate what was said to you using a softer spirit. If your spouse says, “Wow, you really need to lose some weight!” Set aside your hurt feelings, and resist the urge to retort something hurtful in return such as, “Me? How about you!” Because that’s generally how that conversation would begin to spiral into a giant argument leaving both with anger and frustration, not to mention feeling vulnerable and unloved.
Instead you can choose a different response. First reiterate what was expressed using a kind and gentle tone. Next, express how thankful you are for the criticism and express your feelings about it. Third, comment on how you would address the criticism without making excuses.
In the example above, the criticism (or truth) was given without much compassion (or love). But you can turn it around using the 3 steps in this way:
“I understand what you’re saying about your desire for me to lose weight. I thank you for feeling close enough to me to express your opinions openly to me. While the way you said it made me feel hurt and a little defensive in the beginning, I realize that you are just concerned about my health and my attractiveness to you. I know I’ve gained some weight and I would like to work on that. Maybe we can discuss some changes that I can make in this area.”
This will tell your spouse that while you appreciate and accept their criticism, it was done in a way that was hurtful to you, and you still would like to address the issue. Your spouse is more likely to take your example and begin to share criticisms in a more loving way. It takes an extremely emotionally mature person to slow the train of thought that is heading toward hurt and anger, and to reroute it to kindness and grace. This will take some time, but it will help you grow closer to your spouse, and to God.
In closing, we all need to be more conscientious in how we both give and receive criticism. Remember that all criticism should be given and received with truth and with love.
Scriptures for Meditation
“Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.” – Proverbs 13:18 ESV
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” – 2 Timothy 3:16 ESV
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” – Galatians 5:13-15